It's probably too soon for this article. We still don't know the entirety of Cal Men's Basketball's full non-conference schedule, let alone the order of games in the conference season. But on the other hand, it's late June, and we won't be able to watch Cal athletes do anything on the field of play for three months, so we make due with what's out there.
It's become something of an annual tradition to grade the men's and women's basketball non-conference schedules, because they play a critical role in shaping the tournament profile that determines the March fate of the team. And since Cal has a new coach, it's probably worthwhile to look at Cuonzo Martin's previous non-conference schedules. Here's his previous non-conference schedule strengths as calculated by RPI and by Kenpom:
2013-14: 41 (RPI) ; 117 (Kenpom)
2012-13: 47 (RPI) ; 143 (Kenpom)
2011-12: 156 (RPI) ; 160 (Kenpom)
With Missouri St.
2010-11: 199 (RPI) ; 135 (Kenpom)
2009-10: 300 (Kenpom)
2008-09: 228 (Kenpom)
Note: ESPN's RPI data only goes back four years.
Those last two years at Tennessee are encouraging - top 50 RPI non-conference schedule strength is perfectly reasonable for a team playing in a power conference. That Martin managed to secure a high RPI schedule without actually playing a particularly difficult schedule is a good sign that Martin either knows how to game the RPI system like a smart coach, or that he just got lucky.
So, what can we project for next year? As always, we're breaking games into three categories, with last year's RPI rankings in parenthesis.
Cream of the Crop
The games that get fans excited and largely shape a team's non-conference tournament resume.
Syracuse (16), Iowa (62), Texas (37), Wisconsin (6)
Cal will play Wisconsin at home, and two of the other three teams in New York, and in all likelihood that will mean at least three games against RPI top 50 teams. Winning one out of three would probably count as a success considering the talent these teams possess, but it's way too early to begin that kind of speculation.
Should be wins that don't hurt a team's computer profile. Sometimes sneaky good teams in this category can provide a solid resume boost.
at Fresno St. (120), Montana (167), at Nevada (139), Wyoming (134), Princeton (127)
Generally speaking, playing a bunch of MWC teams is a good way to build a good resume, and so scheduling Fresno St., Nevada and Wyoming makes sense. I'll admit I'm a little leery of two true roadies, but there's upside if Cal wins. I took a glance at the rosters of each team, and only Fresno lost a more-than-typical amount of talent, so all of these teams should be just as good, if not better, than last year. I would expect all of them to be at least RPI top 150 teams.
Like fast food, one or two of these games in October and November probably won't hurt, but empty calories should generally be avoided.
Cal Poly (208), Eastern Washington (224), CSU Bakersfield (280)
I actually think there's a chance that Eastern Washington (a painfully young team last year, 290th in Kenpom's experience metric) and Cal Poly (who somehow made the NCAA tournament and has been typically mediocre) might improve a bit and not really be an RPI drag next year, which means there's a decent chance that CSU Bakersfield will be the only true cupcake on Cal's schedule. That's entirely acceptable, and I love that Cal probably won't play an RPI 300+ team next year.
Tentative A minus. My criteria, for what it's worth, is based on whether this schedule will be a boon in March, and not based on entertainment value. The grade is tentative because Cal will play two other games as part of the 2K challenge at home, and those opponents have not been announced yet, but based on past fields, I wouldn't expect anything particularly exciting. I would guess one game will be against a decent mid-major, and another will be against a pretty bad team.
But I think no matter what, this is a well constructed schedule. There are enough marquee games to give Cal a chance to notch a meaningful resume win (and one of these years Cal will actually WIN one of 'em!) and the other games are challenging enough to keep the computer resume strong without being likely to result in a flurry of actual losses.
If Martin can install his scheme and style quickly, if the players buy in, and if the roster is balanced enough, this is a schedule that can make them successful, and that's really all you can ask. Is this because Martin is savvy about building a schedule, or because he inherited a good schedule from Monty? I don't know, but past evidence suggests that Martin knows what he's doing.